Saturday, August 18, 2018

"Screwball Central, How May We Not Be Of Assistance?"

According to news reports, a postal carrier in Columbus, Ohio called a man a homophobic slur and then cut off his mail, as it were. "You homophobic slur!" she almost certainly didn't say. We know what she said. This disturbs me on a couple fronts. Starting with the postal part.

I carried mail for 31 years. The Postal Service, admirably, hires every kind of screwball there is as long as they can read an address, or screwballs with a lot of veteran's-preference-points if they can't. As our friend Stricky used to say, shaking his head at the inane patter du jour, "We've got 'em all down here." And durn near every one of us considered our duty sacred. We even had a name for it: "the sanctity of the mail." So no matter what brand of personal idiocy we subscribed to, we got the mail through.

It's possible this doesn't apply anymore. The job is different. The carriers have bar codes tattooed on their asses during Orientation and are constantly tracked in the system like the letters themselves, which is not a policy designed to elevate morale or foster personal pride or encourage initiative. It encourages trudging, is what it does.

But maybe other things have changed too. Maybe there's some new Religious Jerkwad Freedom Initiative that's allowing letter carriers to discriminate and harass on the basis of the deeply held belief that some people are too icky for mail service.

I watched the video of the carrier in question. It all started when the gentleman tried to reach for his mail when the entire residential gang box was open instead of waiting until he could use his own key. This is a postal no-no. I used to cheerfully remind grabbers that I was so sorry, but I couldn't allow it because of security concerns, which I was sure they'd understand, but I'd be done in a jiffy.

"But you just handed that lady her mail!"

"Yes, but I do know who she is," I'd say, usually without actually adding And she gives me twenty dollars at Christmas time.

But personal animus never entered into it. What I did not do is say "I'll be done in a minute, Spanky Pants, so you can keep your fat pink capitalist hands off those letters, which are my letters until I shut this box, and if you do not take three steps back this instant I'm telling your wife about that little chippy in Accounting, and telling everyone else that you order adult diapers."

Because I am a nice person.

There are a few legitimate reasons to quit delivering your mail. If, for instance, your unrestrained wolf hybrid threatens me, that's it for your grocery circulars and election flyers. Even more fun, I can quit delivering mail for the whole block. That's the trick that usually gets your attention. Unfortunately for me, I'm supposed to deliver a Bad Dog letter to you first, to explain things.

Not sure the Postal Service thought that one through.

So is this incident similar to those poor persecuted bakers who thought making a wedding cake for women was their first station on the train to Gomorrah? Hard to say. If that was an ethical stand, which I contend it was not, this incident falls somewhere below it. This is just an asshole on a power trip. Mail carriers don't have many ways to power-trip, so ripping someone's name off his mailbox and stomping off is about the limit. And it should be a firing offense.

The second thing that was disturbing was that the asshole in this case was a black woman, which goes completely against the narrative. I count on black women to have a much better grip on matters of justice, and although it is never fair to generalize, I'm still disappointed. If some representative of the Postal Service is going to go rogue like that, I want that person to be a recognizable deplorable of some kind. Any of your standard villains. Or at least a man.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Meeting The Neighbors

Hi! Yes, nice to met you, too! Carl, did you say? Oh sorry. Kale! Kale? Kale! And who is this little buttonhead in the stroller? Enid? What a sweet name! Hi, Enid! Hi, Enid! Aww, Enid's shy. Welcome to the neighborhood, Kale and Enid!

Gosh, isn't that typical, I just meet someone for the first time and I look like I've done my hair with a fidget spinner. Sorry! I usually fix it first thing in the morning. I've got that big cowlick on the one side, and the flat spot in the back, and it just takes a little floofing but I must've gotten distracted this morning. Anyhoo!

Yeah, I'm in between haircuts, so it's a little weird. Right, Astrid? You haven't even had a haircut yet, have you, honey? Cute little button. Oh, Enid, right, sorry.

The garden? Thanks! I try. It looks a little funky now because the spring bulbs are all done and it's just a bunch of brown crap, and the fall perennials haven't really come in yet. I'd have had a nice new mulch down by now but I haven't even started weeding. There was all that rain, and then it got so dang hot, and you know. Yeah, last week would've been perfect, but I had a thing. Monday. And I had another thing Tuesday. I had all the things last week, I swear. Anyhoo.

Sheesh, you'd think I could've gotten that little postage stamp of a lawn done by now, right, Chive? Sorry. Kale. Mower's in the shop. Four weeks out. Swear to God, every year. You think you're going to get to it, and then the rains come, and all of a sudden it's up to here, and you haul out the mower and she's-a no work. I called a company and you know they want eighty bucks for that little patch? I don't think so. Kids used to do a whole yard for three bucks when I was coming up. Yeah, that was a long time ago, you're right about that.

Anyway, nice to meet you, Chard--no, I'd better not shake hands, I've been in the chicken shit. Ordinarily you wouldn't see me out in public in an old shirt and torn pants and these clodhoppers, but hey, you caught me just when I was thinking about getting to some of these weeds. No sense being a fashion plate in the garden, right? Be nice to get all this done and shower up and put on a nice outfit and enjoy the place. You all should come back in a few days. Bring your wife too. Pardon me? Gerald? Bring Gerald. We'll sit out back and have a beer. Not for you, Aphid! Ha ha! You're too little!

Enid. Swear to God, I've got a mind like a, like a, you know. You drain your spaghetti in it. Mind like a cauliflower.

Colander! Yeah, that's what I meant. Hey, why don't you and little Edna pop inside for a second, and I'll write your name down so I don't forget it, because otherwise I totally will, and I'll give you my email. Come on in. No, no, no need to take your shoes off, I'm going to have to vacuum soon anyway--obviously!--it's usually a lot more picked up in here, but I had that thing. You want some water or something? Sure. Hang on. Let me just rinse this glass. I've got a note pad around here somewhere. It's under that stack of mail, I think. Don't trip on the laundry basket, I was just getting around to that. Let me shut that door--no one needs to see my sewing room while I'm in the middle of something! I'll just shut this one too.

Help with all this? I never really thought about it. I mean, why pay someone to do something I'm perfectly capable of doing? Huh. Your mom, you say? Oh, your grandma. Well sure. She'd be a lot older than me. She's how old? Oh. Huh. Every other week, huh? Sure. I'll bet it looks real spiffy. You know, if you're into that kind of thing. Sometimes I think people care a little too much about appearances, if you ask me. I mean, no matter how much you clean, it just gets dirty again. We're all going to drop dead soon enough anyway. Bam. Finito. Here's my email. Thanks for dropping by! Careful of that door on your way out. Wind gets ahold of it and it can have a helluva kick to it. Smack you right in the fanny.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

When Mars Hits Your Eye Like A Big Pizza Pie

After reading about astrology I've realized how important it is to keep tabs on the planets (not to mention the moon and sun and the Black Moon of Lilith, which is not even a thing). Otherwise you won't know what they're up to and will be forced to let life proceed along as it will, without any supervision.

My advice? Keep an eye on Mars in particular. That's one aggressive sumbitch.

You probably saw the exciting news the other day on the internet, the world's greatest source of content. Mars was going to get closer to Earth than it had been for 60,000 years and would look as big as the moon! There was even a picture of Mars as a giant tortilla in the sky. Any closer and it would dribble its canals on us. Mars is a very masculine planet and wouldn't think twice about doing that. This was going to go down on July 27th during the full moon. It was going to veer our way sudden-like, go "boogah-boogah," and then peel off to see other planets.

Alas. As is often the case, this was old, recycled news, like when you find out some actor died but he actually did it fifteen years ago. The real authentic tortilla hoax happened in 2003, when Mars made another close approach. It hadn't been that close since giant sloths slowly roamed the Earth, and wouldn't come that close again for 35,000 years. Don't bother to mark your calendars. We'll have been gone as a species for 34,850 years by that point.

The sky show was nevertheless a fine thing to watch. People should always watch planets, or at least track them on the internet, so they're not taken unawares. For instance, Mercury is in retrograde again. I know, I know. Happens all the time. Somebody should explain to Mercury that nobody's falling for that shit anymore.

This explains everything.
Unfortunately for everybody, good old Mars is also in retrograde. Didn't even hear about that did you? Planets are in retrograde when, from our perspective, they appear to be moving backwards. They aren't, they're just trundling around the sun as usual, but because the goatherds of yesteryear thought they were backing up, we have heritage anxiety about it to this day. We can blame a number of things, from flabby thinking to pox to bad sex, on planets being in retrograde. Or we could just crack a textbook.

But wait! There's more! Six planets are currently in retrograde. That's probably one asteroid shy of sending the whole solar system off the rails. Basically you should hole yourself up indoors with cable TV and lay low for a while. It's like when all the women in the dorm get their periods at the same time. Same advice applies.

Well, I'm sold. I got my natal chart done by the Googles. That's it, right up there. I have a Taurus Ascendant. The body of a woman with a Taurus Ascendant, it says here, will tend to develop as the archetype of the ancient Greek goddess Aphrodite. The breasts may be larger than average, and the hips may be wider. I don't know. I do know just about everything on my natal chart is below the belly button. Even my zodiac chart is sagging.

I made sure to check on Mars. My Mars is in Virgo, or would sure like to be. Now that the horny bastard is in retrograde, I am informed that this can be a tough time for us Libras. I was advised to try to relax. "When Mars glides back into Capricorn on the 12th of August, expect inner anxieties to come out. Try to decompress a bit by taking long walks and mindful meditation."

Duly noted. After the 12th, I'm going right back full bore into reckless driving and overeating.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

All Dressed Up For The Brawl

We'd walked all the way downtown anyway, so I said, Well heck. Let's go watch the rallies.

What rallies, Dave wanted to know?

That would be your Patriot Prayer rally, with guest appearances from the Proud Boys, plus the other contestants, Antifa and a group of Reg'lar People like us.

Who are the Proud Boys, Dave wanted to know?

I'd looked them up. According to Wikipedia, they're boys who are proud of being white, and also they don't masturbate, in case that prevents them from getting off the sofa and going out to find a real woman.

Dave elected not to pursue.

Patriot Prayer is a right-wing group based in nearby Vancouver, Washington, where people from Portland go if they want to escape the tyranny of taxes and decent civilization. "Patriot Prayer" is one of those names you cook up if you want to rattle the opposition with otherwise inoffensive words. Like if I started a group called "Divine Uterus."

We walked along the waterfront; I'd heard that was where the action was. There were blue flashing police lights in the distance. The closer we got, the more people seemed to be wearing outfits. Everyone gets an outfit! We were puzzled. Some of the people--all right, they were all men--were wearing American flags. Some of them had bandanas over their faces. Some had, what do you call them, flak jackets? Big puffy vests anyway--not at all slimming. Everyone was playing dress-up.

"I can't tell who is who," I told Dave. The folks who had cut up flags into clothing might appear to be our vaunted Praying Patriots, but maybe the flag was being worn ironically. There didn't seem to be much violence in the air at this point, just a lot of milling about, although the Patriots had promised to come packing.

Per my query, a gentleman explained he was wearing a bullet-proof vest to protect him from the counter-demonstrators.

"Couldn't you just stay home?"

Evidently not. They were here to demonstrate free speech, or something. I'm all for it. ACLU supporter and everything. Their little get-ups looked more like a provocation than protection but in either case that's free speech too. I'm not sure why they're worked up about it. We do have free speech. Could it be they think free speech means nobody is allowed to object to it?

The gentleman next to the large bullet-proof fellow was saying something about the state of our country that--I'm sorry, I know it's not polite--made me laugh out loud at him. Kind of a lot. Also I may have blown a fart noise at him. Twice. Whereupon he loudly informed me that I'm in fucking denial.

"Language, son, language!"

I believe the inciting comment was "It was Obama who divided us, as soon as he got in."

Huh. Well, he did flush out the bigots pretty fast, I'll give him that.

But, sonny! Why get all het up about free speech and then spend it on profanity? Never mind. I have other questions.

Why call yourself Patriots and then turn around and desecrate the flag?

Do you have star-spangled underpants on too?

About that Prayer. Didst thou know thou art to enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly? Of course thou did. Everyone knowth that.

Isn't this a beautiful day? Isn't it nice to get out of the basement for a while? Did your mom pack you snacks? I hope your mom packed you snacks.

Dave began to steer me away. He is not a macho dude and has never, and would never, intervene in any fight I might want to pick. Unless he senses I'm in actual danger, which hasn't happened yet. Nevertheless, he doesn't care for my interest in picking fights with Nazis.

We walked a bit from the epicenter of things and only then discovered that all of the dressed-up boys were far-right types, and then there was a four-lane street with police in it, and then on the other side was the crowd of anti-fascists and Reg'lar People like us. It's like the Revolutionary War. Everyone gets spruced up in their uniforms and colors, and then they stand in a line and face each other, and maybe there will be some blam-blam. It always seemed like a silly way to conduct a war, albeit orderly. When Dave and I came up on the backside of our merry Patriots, we were accidental guerrillas.

Far out.

Anyway that was the whole problem. Here we were, just a little late for the ceremony, and there wasn't an usher to direct us to the correct side of the aisle. Our friends were over there, and here we were with the batshit brigade. Oh, well. Do you, Dave, and you, Murr, promise to defend the Constitution and fight the forces of autocracy and hatred for as long as you both shall live?

We do.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

My Stars!

Let's hear it for the Babylonians, who either invented or discovered astrology, depending, a long time ago. The Babylonians worked it all out just before being obliterated by Cyrus the Great--bummer they didn't see that coming!

But there's something to the idea that mere antiquity gives a philosophy weight. After all, rumors still persist that even before the invention of the written word, the primordial Wakka Wakka people were well on the way to proposing a Grand Unified Theory of particle physics, when unfortunately their oral tradition was disrupted by the terrible Tongue-Eater tribe bent on expanding their woolly-rhinoceros hunting territory. Such a loss.

Astrology, however, continued to thrive long after the Babylonians failed to, because it is fun. You get your own chart. It's your chart! Not really like anyone else's! You feel like a five-year-old with her first backpack that has her very own initials on it. It's very specific, and just as good at explaining your life as anything else. You can open a can with a car tire, too.

An acquaintance practices the occult arts for a living. Shortly after we met, she asked me my zodiac sign and I made her guess. She finally fetched up at "Libra" eight signs in. "You know how I knew?" she said, triumphant.

She has since explained various aspects of my personality to me, although I rarely recognize any of them as being my traits, and when I squinch up my eyes and say "Well, not really, I'm just the opposite," she tells me that it's because probably my moon is somewhere or other. Else. In a house. There are a bunch of houses. That moon could be anywhere. You can't trust it.

The idea is that the position of the planets (and moon and sun) at the very moment of your birth determines a lot about who you are and what you may become. Your whole natal chart is thrown out of whack if you're off by a couple hours.

Doesn't he look thrilled.
My mother was clearly aware of all this, which is why she had me induced one week before the school cut-off and two weeks before my due date, so that I would grow up to be the kind of kid likely to enter first grade at age five instead of age six and ultimately leave home altogether as soon as possible, because she and Daddy were getting on in years.

Astrology worked well enough to be considered a science for a long time, but there were always things that didn't quite add up, until, finally, the missing piece showed up in 1930, when Pluto came on board and straightened out the whole franchise. Unfortunately, he later retired as a planet, and now just does consulting part-time.

I'm not certain what mechanism the planets use to influence our psyches. Evidently it has to do with energy, which will remain undefined out of respect for its mystery. All the planets have different kinds of energy. I don't know which one holds the most sway over me. But the smart money is on a gas giant.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Tycho Is In Da House

Welcome out, little dude! Bright out here, innit? That was probably a rough few hours there but now here you are and everyone's in love with you. There's so much love out here, you couldn't pack it in any tighter with shims and a mallet. And you haven't even done anything yet. Go ahead and take it--it's all yours. You can't mess this up.

That's not an excuse to be aggravating.  You should probably get that stuff out of your system now while you can still get away with it. In fact, some of the stuff you're going to get out of your system in the coming year is pretty dreadful. Here's a suggestion. Take it easy on your folks, they're good people. Jump all over the potty training thing first chance you get. Everyone will be amazed. Proper containment of personal effluent is much admired in the very young and very old. Your parents are not elderly but they're not shiny new, either. That's going to work to your advantage because they're going to be calm and steady and completely there for you, but maybe just a little too tired to supervise you every dang minute, so you will get a chance to go make a bunch of mistakes and figure things out. That's good.

In fact, if you really want to blow their minds, try being completely uninterested in screens. Phones? Tablets? Don't even give them a second glance. Mess around in the dirt instead. They won't know what to make of it. But then they'll totally need you in their old age, when all the communication systems of the world have foundered in ways we can't even imagine, and they'll need to learn how to grow their own beets and lettuce, and there you'll be, seeds and spade in hand and way ahead of the game. Oh, Dad, you'll say. The potatoes are underground, Dad. Go ahead and roll your eyes at him, but do it with love.

Your papa's a button-nosed beauty and your mama's a freakin' Viking. You're going to be real good-looking unless I miss my bet, but try not to ride that pony too hard. You're already lucky in love. You even have a third grandma, if you count me, and you don't even have to worry about getting any of my genes on you. I am an honorary grandma, which is what you call a grandma who isn't getting anyone named after her. Speaking of that, you might be the only kid in your class with your name. You were named after a 16th-century astronomer, because he was born first. Never forgo love. You really can't have too much of that. Doesn't mean you get to do whatever you want. Just the opposite, actually. That'll make sense later.

There used to be an oldie that went "What the world needs now is love sweet love." Oldie? Tough concept for a newborn. Let's see. About thirty years from now you're going to hear a song that will be written fifteen years from now, and that will be an oldie. It's all about perspective, and yours is very short now, though it's wide. Anyway there was a lot of truth to that oldie. The world still needs love sweet love but it's not the only thing that there's just too little of. We're missing a bunch of stuff. The guy who wrote the song thought we don't need another mountain, because we had enough to last till the end of time, but he'd never heard of Arch Coal, and had no idea people would just blow mountains apart to get at the insides, burn that up, and leave all the crap in the air and streams. He couldn't even imagine that. There's an awful lot of unimaginable things. You'll see.

Going to have to apologize for that right now. We probably couldn't have messed things up any worse if we'd made a point of it. Every generation thinks the world is going to end on their watch, of course. The generation that polished off the last mastodon thought that, but they were only just getting started. We just happen to be the first generation that's right about how bad things are, but that doesn't mean life isn't worth living. In another ten years you'll read about tigers, and rhinoceroses, and all kinds of different fish, for instance, but you never knew them, just as I didn't know a world with billions of passenger pigeons, enough to darken the skies for hours. You only know what you know. You get used to it.

Anyway we're all really sorry about things, but we still got wiggly bugs and music and rainbows and your namesake's stars and peanut butter, and the most amazing clouds--just look up!--and maybe a few salamanders will hang on too. Life is extraordinary--just you wait and see. Maybe you'll be the one to solve everything. Soak up all that love and do loving things with it, little dude. We're all counting on you.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Lepidopterology For And By Dummies

We were on the mountain and we saw an orange butterfly and then we saw another orange butterfly and they piled up until eventually, at alpine elevation, the butterflies reached confetti saturation. Whatever they were up to, they were all up to it. It was a social. A Mixer.

Don't know where the punch bowl was, but butterflies fly like they're drunk. You'd think they could only blunder on whatever they're looking for, flower nectar or Personal Butterfly Nectar, but you'd be wrong. There they are, flapping away and staggering across the sky, until another one shows up, and suddenly it's all highly precise aeronautic do-si-do and allemande-left, soon to be followed by butt-to-butt and shwing your partner. Clearly they do have a plan and know how to carry it out.

See the comma?
And clearly I need to learn more about butterflies. Starting with our little orange friend. Question one: who is it?

Question two: did you know there are five bazillion orange butterflies in the field guide? And that there are worse things to do with your time than spend a half hour leafing through them? My orange friend is a Gray Comma. Commas are so-called because of an eensie beensie white mark on the back of their wings that looks like, um, a parenthesis. There are also Question Mark butterflies. Basically, you should ignore all the fancy colorful bits in the front and flip your butterfly over to look for punctuation.

You can also spot the comma-that-looks-like-a-parenthesis if they fold up and show the gray mottled backside of their wings. They have raggedy edges to their wings and when they fold up into the praying-hands position, they look like crap. Specifically, they look like leaf litter, presumably so as to be less noticeable to predators, although just between you and me, plenty of birds like to kick leaf litter around.

(Even then, they're crappy at looking like crap compared to the Giant Swallowtail, which comes out of the egg looking like bird poop. That's okay. Mom was pretty much done with them after she laid her eggs on a nice breakfast plant. She's not going to fret about their social challenges. The strategy is: nobody eats bird poop. Even mystery bird poop that appears to be chewing up plants just as fast as it can. The bird poop caterpillars unzip their suits when they're too tight and reemerge as larger bird poops because it worked out so well the first time. They'll do this four more times until they're too large to be plausibly poopy and then a whole new fancy version shows up, but I digress.)

Back to our little orange sots. Evidently they are lurching around looking for meaningless sex. Long-term commitment does not apply to butterflies. They find each other by sight, and seal the deal with pheromones, little molecules of flirtation. They also have photo receptor cells at their genitals, which have to be pretty close to Where The Sun Don't Shine, but we're not here to criticize. The rest of the show is the same old story: the male employs a pair of "clasping organs" and his "tubular structure" is extruded into the female's "vagina," or hoo-hoo.

This may go on for several apparently agreeable hours. The male may present the female with a nuptial food gift in addition to his sperm packet, which no female really regards as a gift so much, and then eggs are laid, larvae emerge and eat everything in sight, and eventually, uh-oh! The caterpillars pupate in a chrysalis. Sure, it's embarrassing, but it can happen to anybody.

What follows is the amazing metamorphosis that every school child learns and can illustrate readily with folded construction paper and little crappy rounded scissors. There are numerous videos of the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly but they are not satisfying. You can't see what's going on. A big goober crusts over and hangs around and then a butterfly busts out. Like, what the hell.

It's all been a big secret, until now! The chrysalis is actually open in the back where you can't see it, and the butterfly was in there all along in a bag that looks like it's securely fastened, but really has a secret zipper in the bottom. Distraction doesn't figure in. The process takes a few days and they know perfectly well you're not going to be looking the entire time.

Now we're back to having a butterfly and the crowd goes wild. People love butterflies. People sometimes find a butterfly has landed on their very person, and they're usually pretty honored by it, even though the insect is basically attracted to their salt, and would be equally interested in landing on poop or a corpse. They might even have just done it before they landed on you. They're just big tubular structures, that way.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Slivery Moon

So we got into the car around 10:30 and left Jack and Devon's house and drove around the corner and up the hill, and Lo! Lo, I say!

Biggest dang orange crescent moon ever, total sky hammock, with the biggest brightest juiciest star ever, tipped just off its toe, on a solo spangle, just hanging there over the horizon. Gobsmacked doesn't cover it. "That's got to be Venus," I said to Dave, totally guessing because he wasn't liable to contradict me, and accidentally getting it right. I have seen a fair amount of sky shows over the years and I've never seen anything quite like this. It's as though Aphrodite flang her giant flag all over the western sky. The flag of Turkey, actually, for some reason, but whatever.

Venus is the goddess of love and beauty, and all the trouble that goes along with that. She is a stunner. That's probably why I guessed her instead of big ol' spotty Jupiter. According to the Romans, she was born when Saturn killed Uranus, sliced off his wiener, and threw it into the ocean, where it generated what was delicately called "sea foam," as if. Up she comes out of the "foam" standing in a big scallop shell and the rest is history, or something just as good.

Anyway it was one of the coolest things I've ever seen. Huge orange slice of moon and big bright star that had obviously just rolled off it. OMG OMG OMG, I said to Dave, Jack and Devon have to see this! And I don't have my phone! And you don't have your phone! OMG OMG OMG! What to do, what to do! And Dave said, after giving me one of those looks, "They're a block and a half away. Turn the car around."

Always an analog solution.

We turned the car around and fetched them out and soon we all stood there at the crest of the hill with our smacked gobs, and I wished aloud I had my camera, even though I have never ever taken a decent picture of a night sky and wasn't likely to do so now, and Dave said "You could just look at it," which is what he does.

This, but bigger and oranger.
I did. If Venus had been any closer to the moon, he would have poked a hole in her. She's Venus, he probably wanted to. And of course both objects were enormous, about to set. Scientists insist that this bigness is an illusion, but they have at least three different theories about what causes it, to which I'd add a fourth: they're wrong. The moon really is freaking huge on the horizon.  It starts out all dilated and nervous, and then it gets smaller after it has a chance to do some reconnaissance and climb up the sky a little where we can't get at it, until it gets to the other side, when it blows up to do one last nanner-nanner at us before dropping safely out of sight.

Oh, victim of the modern world. Along with thinking I needed a cell phone, and a camera, I also wondered why I hadn't read about this in advance so I didn't miss it. But is it always good to pre-smack your gob? Maybe not. This vision was made more stupendous by its serendipity.

It's not that I think knowledge ruins things. It doesn't, unless your thing is ignorance. I have friends who are so attuned to the sky that they can watch the swing of the stars and the perambulations of the planets in perfect intimacy, their minds at ease in a friendly web of stardust and time. The constellations are their personal friends, the neighborhood of the near universe is familiar and dear. Their joy is amplified.

And they're not necessarily scientists. Once there were shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night: they knew all about it. I'm a city girl. I don't know as much as the shepherds in the field.

But still the glory shone round about me.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Opportunist

It is a wonderful thing, the fabric of life. No sooner does one cut a notch out of it that something notch-shaped shows up to occupy it, the way weed seeds roll into a sidewalk crack. We don't even know the half of how any given ecosystem works, with its long, laced fingers, its slender webbed strands. Japanese whalers probably thought if they transferred the whales from the oceans into their mouths, there'd be that much more room for fishes--that's the sort of conclusion you draw when you start with the premise that whale is delicious. But it was not the case: the system evolved with whale poop and began to founder without it.

You strip all the milkweed from the Great Plains in order to grow Wonder Bread and hamburger, and all the monarch butterflies disappear. And yet, if you get enough liberals to plant milkweed amongst their arugula, a few expatriate monarchs show up again, like magic. For every molecule that drifts by, there's an antenna yearning for it.

What's that in the distance?
It was a source of amazement to me when we planted our first asparagus patch some forty years ago. I believe we may have had the only asparagus patch in a square mile. And I'll be dogged if we weren't soon playing host to the only squadron of asparagus beetles in town. Where did they come from? Who gave us away? Are there asparagus-beetle surveillance drones?

Meanwhile the sky is charged with seeds, airborne on fluffy crafts, hoping to happen upon a satisfying dot of substrate. Right here in my garden we have a number of flower colonies that we never planted, such as foxgloves and calendulas and evening primroses. They just show up. I yard out most of them and leave a few for fun. And just the other day I noticed a new plant. Upon careful inspection it revealed itself to be a western bleeding-heart. Not the fancy kind that you buy in the nurseries, but the native. This is the very plant I personally refer to as "Naked Man Climbing Ladder," after a particularly harrowing visual event I have been unable to evict from my brain, but there's no reason to get into that. I don't know of any pockets of native bleeding-heart in the vicinity, and yet here it is. According to the literature the leaves are up to twenty inches high.

Ours are about twenty feet high.

All right, many people would take that as an indication that all was not well with our siding. In fact, I too believe it is not a good sign when an entire plant is growing out of the side of the house. This is in spite of the fact that I have honed a successful emotional strategy over the years based on willful avoidance. It works very well for me: I am a buoyant person. So, for instance, I can look at ripples in the sheetrock inside and imagine that that is just what sheetrock does, all on its own, from time to time, out of sheer exuberance. And I can notice places where the baseboard is pulling away from the wall and the paint is bubbling up and surmise this is the sort of thing that can happen as a house settles. And I can observe, on the outside, that the clapboards are bowed and flexed crazily in a vertical plane neatly corresponding to a downspout where the tower meets the roofline, and I can think: Gosh, they don't make siding like they used to.

Yes, I can.

I can, that is, until my friend Mike points out the very same phenomenon and suggests gently that I might have a water problem, and then, well shit, it's out there, isn't it? All spoken out loud, and everything. Unraveling my finely honed emotional strategy entirely.


So there it is. I have a bleeding-heart hanging out of my siding halfway up my house. Dicentra formosa. I know stuff about plants, and I know this one will turn yellow and disappear altogether in mid-summer, shortly after it quits blooming. That's what they do.

It will be as though my house has healed itself.

I should call a contractor. But if I can wait till the plant goes away, I'm good to go. Until the house sprouts tadpoles.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

This Either Is, Or Is Not, Awesome

This here is my one-thousandth blog post, which is obviously awesome! By "awesome" I mean immensely cool, or even just cool, or else I'm just signaling the end of a sentence and now it's your turn to talk.

Cranky language people like to sniff that we've gotten careless with the word "awesome" and that if we use it, we'd better be talking about, well, God, or somebody equally impressive. Or one of his larger or more photogenic works. Mostly they don't notice that it started out, around 1600, meaning "full of awe" (so it would, say, refer to somebody beholding God rather than the big guy himself). And then only later was it applied to the awe-inspiring item. At any rate, the curmudgeondom is pretty certain "awesome" shouldn't refer to a collection of blog posts, or a satisfying dump, or even the observation that a person can meet someone at the movies at five. None of those should evoke an "awesome."

This doesn't bother me much. I understand that there is a need to shanghai words for one's own purposes sometimes, and there's a further need in any community to shake the vocabulary up a bit so it doesn't sound stale. "It's garbage day," I might say, and someone might say "Awesome" back. It didn't even have to be "awesome." It could have been "saline" or "gibbous." The point is to move conversation along and, maybe, send a signal to your own tribe that you're a member in good standing. Some day in the future, you might hear someone saying "Gibbous, dude," although "dude" will have been replaced by then. By "bosco," or "kipper."

"Awesome" has been on the way out for a while. Now you're more likely to hear things are "perfect." If you order something off the menu in a restaurant, your servidude will automatically say "Perfect." One suspects that every single thing on the menu is equally perfect and you doubt that, but after all it's a sunny attitude to take toward your food, or your willingness to schedule an appointment at a certain time ("Perfect").

First post
Anyway, I don't get real worked up about it. I know how this works. Some word or phrase or even inflection becomes passed around your cohort and before you know it, you hear it vaulting out of your own face like a dog after a squirrel. Bam. It's like influenza. You think you're immune, but you're not. You can go sixty years without ever saying "I know, right?" or "I can't even with this" and then, suddenly, you do. You might feel sort of weak and susceptible when you hear yourself saying it for the first time. (But at least you know what a "cohort" is.)

Still, I was startled the other day when Dave and I were on a walk, and we saw a young man get out of a delivery truck, and we said "Hi there, which direction  is Burnside?" And he smiled and said "What an amazing question," and pulled out his phone to check.

I laughed outright. "No it isn't!" I said.

He looked at me and laughed back. "I guess you're right!"

"It's kind of an ordinary question, really," I pointed out.

"Yeah! It is. Huh! I guess I just said it to be friendly."

Good enough! We did all feel a few notches happier, all right. He pointed toward Burnside, after checking his phone, and got back in the truck. We took his amazing information and headed toward Burnside.

Nice kipper, that guy.  Truly crepuscular.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The New Neighbor

There are a lot of  ways to tell you're getting old. The revolutionary anthems of your youth are playing in the pharmacy aisle. You can mold your own elbows like Play-Doh. You have a different relationship with death.

Young people don't think about death much at all. When they do, it's in the form of nameless terror that comes unbidden, a sudden, nocturnal wad of dread, to be replaced come morning with your regularly scheduled immortality.

Old people have more familiarity. Death is the new neighbor who moved in down the street. We can smell what he's cooking. We've been peering at him through the blinds for a while, and we're getting to know his habits. They're not all good. We probably should bring over a fruit basket so he will think kindly of us, but it's too late and awkward now.

Old people get specific about this. It's not a big dread-wad anymore, but a sober review of options, most of them unpalatable. Most of us have notions of the nature of our own demise, educated guesses mostly, and we also have our druthers.

Me, for instance. I druther be minding my own business on the street and have a piano fall on top of me. According to cartoon lore, this sort of thing used to happen all the time. People stared at pies on the windowsill by means of hyphens, people ran off cliffs and were doing fine until they looked down, and people walked under falling pianos. My friend Bill actually had his grand piano craned up twenty floors into his apartment, and back down again later. So I had a shot. When I go, I want to be smashed into veneer and hear that 88-key clusterjangle, last thing.

But that's not what I think will really happen. I think one day my neck will gang up on me and sit on my windpipe. I can feel it gearing up sometimes when I fall asleep in my chair. Any time my chin drops forward, my neck gang convenes and plots to take me out.

Another way to tell you're getting old is if you refer to your own neck in the plural. But there you go. It's a gang. It's three against one. I don't like my chances.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Iams Okay, Youms Okay

Tater Cat, here, eats Iams Proactive Health Healthy Adult Original cat kibble in the bright orange bag, and don't you be slipping her anything else. She will think you're trying to kill her. Actual chicken? Actual fish? Pet store cat-candy? Wet food? Ice cream? Don't even try.

We keep her bowl of kibble in the kitchen. Same general vicinity as all the rest of our food. We're not super tidy. There are food bits around to be found, if you're in the entrepreneurial vermin class.

So this winter, in the midst of the Rat Capades, I discovered a neat cache of cat kibble in the kitchen, under a sofa, in a throng of rat turds. Not grain, not beans, not bread crumbs or fruit from the basket. Kibble.

And yesterday, an enthusiastic parade of ants discovered the kibble and sent word back to the nest that the Promised Land had been found.

All of which leads me to wonder: would Iams Proactive Health Healthy Adult Original cat kibble make a good crunchy topping for a 1950s casserole in the absence of Durkee canned fried onion rings? What's in this stuff, anyway?


That would be your chicken, your chicken by-products, corn meal, corn grits, beet pulp (why not), Natural Flavor, eggs, yeast, thirty unpronounceable nutrition bombs, and rosemary extract. I've always wondered what Natural Flavor was.


That would be your essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. In other words, it's what you use if your Bark 'n' Bean Bake could use a little extra barky flavor punch. It's chemically identical to artificial flavoring but has a fancier provenance; fortunately for consumers, it costs more.

So, on to the chicken by-products. That's got to be eggs, right? No. It's any part of the chicken that people don't want to eat because they think it's offal. White people, anyway, with the possible exception of Norwegians, who probably still revere some ancestral recipe for tusk as a delicacy (as long as there's butter). Chicken feet, backs, spleen, brains, lungs, things like that there. It would also include hen's teeth, which do in fact exist and can be created by turning on a gene pathway discovered in a mutant toothy chicken, which is probably something the pet food industry wants to know about.

A lot of these things are also legally considered fit for human consumption, of course, as long as they are ground into sausage. Sausage is sort of defined as a tubular parcel of things you don't want to know about.

Speaking of things you don't want to know about--are you still here?--if you see something generically labeled "meat by-product," you might have road kill, dead zoo animals, or euthanized pets in there. I'm all for reducing waste, so now I have a new plan for my own earthly remains. Cat food. Tater won't touch it, but how bad could it be?

Saturday, July 7, 2018


"I suppose you want something," I said to the crow on the wire, who emitted a noncommittal squawk. "I've got walnuts. But hey. Since I have you on the phone line, what the hell was that all about the other day, when you and your gang mobbed me halfway down the block? I was already walking away from your kid. You guys are supposed to be smart. Recognize faces, and all that. You know perfectly well I've been nothing but friendly to you."

I fetched the walnuts, squinted up at the wire, and decided to hold out.

"Yeah. So smart. And they say a crow is as smart as a seven-year-old human."

The crow emitted a noncommittal squawk and then cleared its throat.

"Easily. And age seven is the pinnacle of human intelligence, after which you all dwindle down to Candy Crush and reality TV. So."

"You DO talk?" Dave had been hollering "Hey, Walnut-Boy" for years as he placed nuts on the patio, hoping someday the crows would start saying "Hey, Walnut-Boy" to him.

The crow ruffled briefly and sleeked back down. "Tsss. Remember when you used to stare up into the trees and go 'Caw, caw, caw?' Were you expecting some kind of reply? As if. How about if we sat outside your window and yelled 'Dude, dude, dude' over and over again?"

"That would be awesome. That would be cute. It's not like you don't say the same things over and over again already."

"Hardly. You're so provincial. If you hear something that doesn't fit into your narrow world view you just ignore it. But have somebody put on a minstrel show and say Dude Dude Dude and you brighten right up. It's offensive."

"Well, I do like Chucklehead over there in the cedar. He's cool." Chucklehead rarely caws. Chucklehead starts with pairs of hoots and then cuts loose with a virtuosic string of clicks and ratchety noises.

"Her name is not 'Chucklehead.' Cecilia Clickenheimer is a sage."

I was willing to believe that.

"Anyway, glad we can make you feel good about yourself with the walnut distribution."

"You never even take them until I go away."

"They're not going anywhere. And we see no reason to reward you for a blatant case of cultural appropriation. We've been eating walnuts for generations, but you discover them and now it's all about you. You don't even know where walnuts come from."

"I do too. They come from Costco."

"They come from trees. Trees you people keep cutting down and replacing with fancy non-native bullshit trees or something."

"Walnut trees are messy. You should see what they do to cars."

"You should see what we do to cars."

"Hey. I plant plenty of natives. I leave the seedpods to ripen for you guys."

"So occasionally you manage to not mess everything up, and then you want credit? Anyway we just saw you pull out the foxgloves as soon as they quit blooming."

"Oh. You saw that. Well you don't eat seeds anyway."

"The hell. Besides, sparrows eat seeds, and I eat baby sparrows."

"That's disgusting."

"Cry me a river, Veal-Girl."

"The point is, there's no reason to scream at my head if I get near your baby. You know I'm not going to hurt your baby. You know all, see all. Wait. Is it because we let Tater out on the patio with us at Beer-Thirty? Is that it?"

"It's not the cat. It's perfectly obvious your cat is only out here to eat grass and throw up. Awesome little sidekick you have there. A real Einstein. But remember when you put that baby robin in a shoebox and dropped an earthworm on its back? And then you couldn't get it back off again?"

"It was wiggly. I missed. I was only six."

"That poor robin! Peeping away with a worm wriggling through its little feathers."

"That poor robin you would have happily scarfed down?"

"As is my wont. I can take care of myself. You would starve to death in a full pantry if you didn't have a can opener."

"Not true. I saw a Life Hack. You can rub a can against the pavement and the top will pop right off."

"Excellent! It's Cling Peaches and cold goopy black beans for the rest of your days! Honestly. The fact is you people are wrecking everything, and you know it."

"Now, now. I've read that crows do very well in an urban setting."

"Of course. We're smart."

"So you're all high and mighty about the sorry state of the world when you know perfectly well you'll do just fine."

"I see! You think I'm all 'I've got mine, I don't need to worry about anyone else! Howdy, howdy, howdy!' Typical."

"I didn't say that."

"You just did say that. You assumed I'd be as oblivious and self-centered as you people. That's called 'projection.'"

"That's not true. I'm not like that. I am a Democrat and a dues-paying union member."

"Ooo, ooo, ooo. Somebody should give you a cookie. Where are you going? Leave the walnuts."

"Sure. I'll leave the walnuts. You won't eat them until I'm out of sight, but you always eat the walnuts. 'Cultural appropriation,' my bald fanny."

"Reparations, baby. Reparations."

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Independence Day Special

As I understand it, Mitch McConnell and his wrecking crew not only held up Obama's choice for Supreme Court, but did the same for hundreds of other vacancies in the judiciary, so that by the time their biddable bag of meat acquired the Presidency, he could pack the courts with young conservatives who might be expected to steer the country hard to the right for many decades.

Which is awesome if you happen to believe that abortion is the most important moral question we face. It's an answer to prayer. To the Republican majority and the billionaires who underwrite them it is less a matter of God's will than the culmination of a long-term strategy designed to gain and maintain power. It's one element in a campaign that also includes gerrymandering, voter suppression, union-busting, propaganda, and flat-out cheating.

There are a number of reasons I believe abortion should be legal, reasons having to do with coercion and control, and the mysteries of the soul, and the pragmatic consideration that more abortions can be prevented by access to free birth control than by criminalization, and a bias in favor of women's health and autonomy over fetal rights, but it's not something I intend to argue about with people who describe themselves as pro-life.

Suffice it to say fetal success is not at the top of my list of concerns. Not above civil rights for the born; not above the destruction of the particular climate that has sustained us and other life forms; not above the demonization and marginalization of entire groups of people, by race or faith or country of origin, which precedes and condones their elimination; not above the lust for war, which precisely tracks the lust for money. So much. So much I care about.

So many of us do. Enough to march. Lawsy, wasn't that a march! That sea of pink hats! There are more of us than there are of them. How did it all go so wrong?

Let's go back to the anti-abortion folks. Sure, they're just one element of a constituency that includes nervous gun owners and xenophobes and outright racists--there's some intersectionality involved here--but let's look just at them.

These people care. They really care. They care enough to vote, and they vote every chance they get. They put their people on the school board. They elect judges. They elect their city council. They scrutinize every ballot to reward the stance they favor. They're in a minority, but they win. Because they vote.

Is there anything we care enough about to do that? To vote?

Peace? Justice? Sustainable energy and economy? Shared prosperity? Do we care about extinction? The collapse of the oceans? Refugees? Poverty? Do black lives matter to us, at all? Do we assume our own version of righteousness should prevail on its merits, without us having to bother to vote for it?

How would this world be different if Al Gore had had enough extra votes that the Supreme Court would have been ashamed to hand the election to Dick Cheney? Would climate deniers have dominated the Cabinet? Would we still be mired in a fossil-fuel economy? Would we be at war in the Middle East? Did we really think Hillary and Donald were equally bad choices? Really? I guess so. Enough of us stayed home pouting. Waiting for that gorgeous candidate, so we could rest easy, put a LOVE sign on our lawn, and go back to our oblivious daily lives. We didn't care enough.

We care enough to march. We care enough to write checks and make calls. We can start caring enough to vote, every election, every chance we get. Or we can start knitting pink handbaskets.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

To Donna: Love, Thor And Zeus

Original Donna
Nice sunny day for a birthday party, we all thought, especially one for the esteemed Artist Previously And Still Known As Donna. She's hosted some spectacular events before, right in the parking lot of her art gallery, complete with live bands of varied and interesting sorts. And the guests tend to be on the varied and interesting side also, on account of being arty themselves, or from having had artness smeared upon them from an early age.

Dave and I have our own artistic tendencies, or at least we're on the spectrum, but we get the invite on account of being neighbors. Especially, neighbors who grow basil.

And so we made the big commute a half-block down the alley toward the sound of the band, and I glanced up and pointed at the eastern sky.

"Looks like rain," Dave noted. To which I added: Hell. Looks like a thunderstorm.

Nobody here ever believes me when I say that, especially when all the competing weather apps agree it's going to be sunny all day long, and especially when we hardly ever get thunderstorms, but they can gaze at their little screens all they want: I'm looking at the sky. And although there is no thunderhead visible, the sky looks purple, and it looks steep. That's the only way I can say it: it looks steep. It's got plans.

Don't mess with a girl from northern Virginia.

We know our thunderstorms. Most of the summer it is stinky hot and stinky humid and then, at 4:30 in the afternoon, the sky looks purple and steep, and the wind kicks up, and it rains buckets, and it's loud as hell, and it is the most refreshing thing ever, lightning: summers in northern Virginia will make a non-believer out of you. If it ups your chances of getting a thunderbolt slapped at you.

Down further south, I hear tell the kids chew on river banks for their minerals, but we were a little more upscale in Arlington, and we got what we needed by pressing our tongues on the screen door during the thunderstorm. You can taste the tang of it. Vitamin Hallelujah.

This is a town where, if you can summon the energy to peel yourself off the linoleum, you can pass an afternoon popping tar bubbles on the pavement. You can lose your thighs on a lawn chair. You can beg to be sent to the basement with the spiders.

Then the thunderstorm comes, and goes, and everything is fresh and wonderful for a moment, and then all the rain re-evaporates and pushes the humidity just past holy-shit percent. That air could support guppies, and you'd be advised to pack a snorkel for a walk around the block.

Ultimate Donna
Donna's party was swell. There were tent canopies set up for the shade. Then that steep purple sky leaned in, and suddenly everything not nailed down was westward bound. Everyone grabbed a tent pole and grinned. We don't get that here much. Thunder. Lightning. Sweet beautiful summer water pouring right out of the sky, gobs of it, even sweeter for having eluded all prediction. We went home to watch the soak from our tower but we could hear the cheers from the parking lot at every boom. Donna's guests were just fine. I imagine they were tent-pole-dancing. That's what lightning will do to you, especially if you're already arty.

Happy birthday, Donna, and thank you. Give Zeus my regards.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Lord, Lord, Wasn't That A Fish?

My earlier musings about whether a whale fart could contain a horse led me, at one point, to imagine that this was being proposed as a humane marine transportation device for land-dwelling mammals, and although these sorts of things are generally tried with mice or guinea pigs first, perhaps somebody was going for glory. And the prospect is worth investigating, after that Jonah debacle.

Which led me to study Jonah. Jonah is a great Bible book: it's only two pages long. I'm not a hundred percent certain what it's about. Jonah is suicidal from start to finish. First God tells him to pop over to Nineveh and preach to the citizens that they must mend their ways and repent or the city would be destroyed. Jonah says he'd rather die. Instead he tries to go somewhere God can't find him--he's a little unclear on the concept, there--and tries to take a ship to Tarshish.

To this day no one knows where Tarshish was and it is possible "going to Tarshish" is one of those phrases like "buying the farm," and refers merely to a place that is very very far away, possibly just outside Bumfuck, Egypt.

Anyway he never gets there. There's a terrible storm and Jonah admits to the ship's crew that it was probably his fault and offers to be cast into the sea, that evidently being a better fate than having to preach in Nineveh. The sailors don't want to do it but things were taking a turn and eventually they beseech the Lord to let them throw Jonah overboard but not get into trouble for it, and so it was done. The seas calmed instantly and the grateful sailors made a sacrifice unto the Lord. Sacrificing Jonah didn't count because they hardly knew him.

God locates a nearby biddable whale and offers him Jonah, because God loves whales. Everybody loves whales! Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and nights. This is probably using the omniscient point of view, because it would be hard, one thinks, for Jonah himself to know just how long he was in there, unless one imagines, as I do, that in the daytime the belly is sort of semi-dark yet pinkish, with a floor and throw pillows. Anyway Jonah had a chance to think about things and decided he had been unfaithful to the Lord and that's what got him into this situation.

God noted Jonah's remorse and directed the whale to ralph him up onto dry land despite the dangers to the whale of the shallows, because maybe God, being mysterious, doesn't love whales after all. Giveth, taketh away, it's the old story.

Unfortunately for Jonah, this reprieve meant he couldn't skate on the Nineveh deal, so he hied off to Nineveh, and told everyone to repent or die, and somehow they not only didn't kill him, but everyone from the King on down put on sackcloth and ashes. Sackcloth is itchy and made of goat hair and it's worse than Carhartts.

So the Lord spared Nineveh. Which ticked off Jonah. Not sure why. Maybe he felt cheated out of a good urban cleansing that he'd predicted, after all, and if it didn't happen, who's to say it ever would have happened? And here all these people are sitting around in hair shirts and ashes and they've got to be wondering the same thing. Jonah wanted to die.

Anyway Jonah went off to pout and see if the city blew up after all, and then God put a gourd out there that grew up in a day and shaded him, which was nice, and then he sent a worm to kill the vine the very next day, and I'm not sure why it matters because Jonah had already built himself a booth for shade, but that all pissed him off too.

The End.
And God said you didn't have anything to do with that vine, and why shouldn't I care about Nineveh, that has 120,000 people that don't know their right hand from their left, and also has cows? That is what God said, and I believe it, because you can't make this stuff up.

Still, it doesn't make much sense, and the whale clearly got the bad end of the bargain. How much nicer it would have been all around if Jonah had been permitted to make it all the way through the whale and shoot out on a fart! He could bob around in the ocean all warm and eventually make it to the surface, and the poor whale can go about his business.